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Top Senate Democrat Predicts Quick, Clean Minimum Wage Vote January 19, 2007

Posted by notapundit in Congress, Politics, US News.
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WASHINGTON (Dow Jones)–One top senator predicted Friday that Congress will pass and President George W. Bush will soon sign into law a minimum wage increase without any other extraneous measures attached.

“The final bill will be a stripped down bill,” Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee Chairman Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said Friday.

Kennedy also predicted that the Senate would debate the bill for about a week and that negotiations with the House would take another week or so. That would mean the first minumum wage increase in nearly a decade could be ready for the president’s signature by early February, Kennedy said.

Bush has said he supports increasing the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 per hour. But he wants that increase to include tax breaks for small businesses.

The White House clarified that stance Friday noting that Bush also doesn’t want the cost of those tax cuts offset by cracking down on tax loopholes or with other revenue raising measures.

“The Administration does not think it is necessary to tie this small business tax relief to other revenue increases,” the White House’s Office of Management and Budget said.

The House passed the bill on Jan. 10 without any tax breaks, 315-116.

The Senate takes up the bill on Tuesday, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., is expected to try to add a tax break package sometime during the debate. The Senate Finance Committee approved that $8.3 billion package with a voice vote on Wednesday.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said he’d try to add the tax package, if necessary, to get the minimum wage bill past Republicans, many of whom have consistently opposed such an increase.

Reid said he might be able to force a minimum wage bill through the Senate without tax breaks attached, but that might not be the right tone to set.

Kennedy said some modest package of tax breaks might be added to the minimum wage bill to get it passed by the Senate. But Kennedy predicted negotiators in the House and Senate conference would quickly agree to drop any extraneous measures from the bill and the president would sign that bill into law.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., also predicted that a clean bill on a minimum wage increase would pass both the House and Senate.

While some argue that the president would veto the bill if it doesn’t include tax breaks, a carefully worded statement about the House version of the bill makes no veto threat.

Republicans and many business groups argue that the minimum wage increase will, in effect, be a new tax on business and should be offset by tax cuts or other breaks on regulations.

Kennedy says the tax cuts are unnecessary.

A higher minimum wage would mean more workers would be willing to stay in their job, he said. That would leave companies with more experienced workers, lower training costs, and higher efficiencies, Kennedy said.

Hoyer agreed.

“We have, frankly, been spending six years giving tax cuts to almost everybody and a minimum wage increase to nobody,” Hoyer said.

“Democrats… want to help small business, but we believe this bill ought to pass as it passed the House,” Hoyer said.

Speaking at a press conference with Kennedy, Lew Prince, owner of St. Louis’s Vintage Vinyl, a retail record store, said a minimum wage hike would help his business by giving his customers more to spend.

Edward Kuntz, executive chairman of the board for Kindred Healthcare Inc. (KND), also backs the increase.

Kuntz said the increase would increase some of his company’s costs. But some of the tax breaks being considered would help his company and raising the minimum wage is good policy.

“Nothing is more important to providing high-quality patient and resident-centered care than making sure our caregivers are paid a fair wage,” said Kuntz.

By John Godfrey, Dow Jones Newswires

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